Science

Biologists identify frog the size of a thumbnail

After several years exploring the Kerala and Tamil Nadu forests in India, scientists have discovered four new species of frogs that are so tiny they can comfortably take a perch on your thumbnail.

Along with three other larger species that were discovered in the same location, these tiny frogs are amongst the smallest in the world, living on the forest floor and making insect-like calls throughout the night. Located in a mountain range running parallel to the western coast, the frogs were found in a environment known to be home to hundreds of threatened plants and animals leaving scientists “surprised to find that the miniature forms are in fact locally abundant and fairly common.”

The largest of the seven new frog species is known as Radcliffe’s Night Frog and sizes up at about 38mm, with the smallest, Robin Moore’s Night Frog, coming in at a mere 12.4mm. They were proved as a new species by using and “integrated taxonomic approach that included DNA studies, detailed morphological comparisons and bioacoustics”, and it is thought that more species are likely to be found in the area. Sonali Garg claimed, “the past decade has witnessed an exponential increase in the number of new amphibian species described from this region,” with around 159 news species identified in the area between 2006-2015.

Scientists on the research trip believe the species may have been overlooked by other researchers on account of their size, secretive habitats and insect-like calls they make them easily confused with other species or insects. Belonging to the night frog group named, Nycbatrachus, of which there had previously only been 28 recognised species, the three tiny frogs joined ranks of frogs native to the Western Ghats of India and represent and ancient family that arose 70-80 million years ago. Dr. Laurence Jarvis, head of conservation at Froglife, a UK charity claimed the findings to be of global significance saying, “the highly biodiverse region contains many unique amphibian species and the area is under increasing threats from human disturbance”. He hopes the discovery will increase awareness and understanding of the conservation priorities in the forest region. With over one third of Western Ghat frogs already being threatened with extinction and five of the seven new species facing considerable human threats, efforts to maintain the habitats and safety of these new species will be high.

As a result of some of the species being found inside private or state-owned plantation areas, habitant disturbance is a real a threat as well as modification of fragmentation. Garg believes “we are still far from having a near-complete amphibian inventory of this region” and therefore “we need to take stock of how our actions may be leading to an irreversible loss of several smaller forms of life such as frogs.”

01/03/2017

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